Monday, 11 November 2013

The Sock Drawer

This blog is to be upbeat, witty, warm and amusing. No wallowing in sentimentality or self pity then, so perhaps avoiding a post about the sock drawer may have been a good idea. Too late - the title is up there and the fingers are on the keys.

Why tidy a sock drawer first thing on a Monday morning? Well - why not when the laptop is updating, cleaning up and not allowing you to do anything other than stare at a blue screen? When you are waiting for a Waitrose delivery (and realising just how good it is that Ocado offers a one hour window. Two hours not daring to go to the bathroom for fear they come and go without leaving your apricot jam is just too much...) And when you've been struggling to find a matching pair of socks for so long that you figure you could save twenty minutes a day by tipping them all out on the bed and biting the sock bullet.

My sock drawers are not strictly drawers of course - rather too very large baskets. Tipped onto the bed the mountain was alarming - in particular to the emergency cat (okay - her name is Keegan - she will feature heavily in future posts so I may as well introduce her) who is now snoozing quietly where it once was.

Deciding to be organised I grabbed two large freezer bags and a Sharpie. The sock drawer contained not only socks but tights, stockings and all other manner of hosiery (yes - I admit it - there were pop socks - unworn since a colleague told me if I wore such monstrosities I would never have sex again...)

The practical tights - thick, warm and woolly - were rolled neatly and replaced in one basket. The socks - isn't what this is all about - were paired up and popped into the other. Reader - I do not, ever, need another pair of socks. I have enough to last me this life and the next (assuming socks are required which I somewhat doubt).

It was what remained (that phrase feels grammatically incorrect but I am not sure why as I am pretty certain it is not..) that prompted this post.

At least twenty pairs of opaque black tights. Forty denier, Marks and Spencer. Regulation office wear, I could never find a pair when I needed them so bought far more than I needed - figuring you could never have too many.

Probably the same number of luxury tights - some still in their packets. Worn at parties, events, on special occasions. Guaranteed to last one night only due to a jagged fingernail it was always important to keep a pair - or ten - in reserve. Popped into plastic they are safe from snags - and probably from being worn again.

It's perhaps inappropriate on a family friendly blog to mention such items as stockings or their modern rash-inducing-latex compatriots but they are there too - relics from romantic getaways, now consigned to a clearly labelled freezer bag.

Why the poignancy and need to post about something so mundane?

I miss getting dressed for work. Office uniform, smart clothes, black tights, heels or brogues. Hair and face done, ready to face the world.

I miss the parties, the events, the reasons to get dressed up. Plunging necklines - not that I ever opted for them - and sheer stockings are not really de rigeur for a girlie get together in the local (unless you live in Weatherfield of course)

I am of course delighted to have a basket full of perfectly paired up socks - each tucked inside its partner ready and waiting to be popped on and hidden under a pair of plimsolls (I like to call them kitchen shoes...) And I am sure there are many out there who would love not to have to think about what to wear every day, instead pulling on a pair of skinny jeans and a white shirt before piling your hair in a ponytail, or worse still a hairnet, and heading downstairs to start work.

There's a sentimental saying about friendship often to be found on facebook. All about friends being there for a reason, a season, or forever. Maybe hosiery is like that?

The woolly tights will I am sure replace socks under skinny jeans when the snow falls and there are cakes to be delivered. Maybe one day I'll burst open the freezer bags, step back into a pair of ten deniers and head out to receive a National Baking Award! Maybe the opaques will come in handy when I meet a business advisor to discuss expanding into Europe?

And the pop socks - binned? What do you think?

Photo borrowed from - as my socks are of course now back in their baskets. Glad to see I am not the only one to get sentimental over socks.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Clarification and Qualification

Last night's open letter to Mr David Cameron turned into a bit of a rant. I do hope that he read it, though find that doubtful as even if he were to be Looking for Linda he would still turn up an eighties song by Hue and Cry.

Others of you may have done so however, or may consider doing so after reading this. So I feel the need to clarify and qualify words written after a large glass of very nice, greatly reduced white wine (thank you Waitrose that you still make it possible to enjoy the occasional drink even if pubs and bars are becoming prohibitively expensive...)

Of course women who wish to resume their career should not be prevented from doing so after having a baby. At no point would I ever dream of trying to restrict the choice of anyone as to how they wish to live their life. Unless of course it involves illegal, immoral or frankly dangerous activity in which case I might have a quiet word.

There are some great nannies and child minders out there. Fantastic nurseries, caring staff. Excellent childcare exists and for those who want to work outside the home thank goodness for such provision.

My issue (has anyone else noticed how nowadays we all have issues and challenges? Whatever happened to problems?) concerns the mums - and dads, thought to be honest this post does mostly concern mums - who would simply prefer to work at home. And by work I don't mean trying to fit some online money making scheme round the baby's naps. I don't mean continuing their previous career remotely - though that is a possibility it surely still requires childcare.

I simply believe that raising children is a job. A valid career option if you like. It's not all walks in the park and coffee with chums either, for those who haven't been there. Raising children is exhausting, messy, frustrating, repetitive hard work. Ultimately rewarding when it goes well, but when it doesn't there is no worry like it.

And yet this government's policy seems to me (and if I have this wrong please do correct me Mr Cameron - or anyone else reading this) to "encourage" women back into the workplace by offering childcare vouchers as an incentive, and reducing child benefits.

The more I write the more I realise I don't understand this, and the more I think I have obviously got this completely wrong. Time then to shut up for a bit and perhaps move on to a subject I know more about. Expect a post very soon on baking...

Dear Mr Cameron

It feels wrong to be writing about someone in the third person when I obviously have such issues with them. Isn't there a saying somewhere about not saying behind someone's back what you wouldn't say to their face?

I've therefore decided to write this as an open letter to the Prime Minister. Prompted by seeing him/you on TV this evening, I don't think I will rest easy until I have got some of this off my chest.

And so - Dear Mr Cameron,

In a nutshell, I do not understand your policies, or to put it more simply, how you see this country and how it should be run.

Of course I do not have a degree in politics or economics. I didn't go to Eton or Oxbridge. So can you bear with me please and answer some of my questions. I genuinely want to understand what lies behind the decisions you make on a daily basis, and I worry that when you see the outcome of them you might be feeling a little ... bad?

As I write this I am watching the very end of the Festival of Remembrance. You look genuinely moved - who wouldn't? So you obviously care deeply about our service men and women and their families. I know that you lost a child with a severe disability, so you must understand the impact of such disability on family life.

My questions to you may well run into another blog post but for now I want to focus on two main issues - family life and disability benefits.

Disability benefits I know little of personally. But friends of mine who live with scoliosis - as I do - speak daily of the challenges they face. Working when you are in constant pain is difficult. Living allowances that enabled them to get out and about were a lifeline. Cutting these has diminished the life of many good people and prevented them from helping others - what is the good in that?

But don't get me started on family life! I am so very sick of hearing that women should be back at work after having a child. Childcare allowances encourage this. In other words - pay someone to look after your children. Oh - so looking after children is a job for which you can be paid? Why then is looking after your own children not considered a worthwhile occupation?

Of course if you are back in "the workplace" you may need to pay for a cleaner, or someone to do your ironing. These then are "jobs" - unless you are doing your own of course...

Working women have little time and may resort to ready meals - the regular consumption of which goes against government guidelines on healthy eating. But if you are to cook from scratch you need time, which if you are working at home is not paid for...

Children need to be hugged, touched, held, affirmed. But child minders and third parties are not permitted to do this. Surely there are benefits to mums - and dads - bringing up their own children, caring for and teaching them until they are old enough for school? Is it going too far to suggest that this might help with behavioural issues?

Has anyone ever thought that perhaps making it possible for mums to raise their own families - as a career choice - should be applauded and celebrated?

My children are older now, some having flown the nest. I am sure that you think I should be "out at work".

But my contribution to society, and to family life, is something I shall write about in my next letter to you. I would be interested in your response.

Yours sincerely

A M Other

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Cut to the Chase

The last post finished with a picture. Hands up if you recognised it?

Well done - Job Centre Plus (what's the plus all about - plus security? minus toilet facilities?), Exchange Road, Watford.

If this blog is to continue I somehow have to exorcise the ghost of the Job Centre. I also need to tell it how it is for anyone of you fortunate enough never to have graced one with your presence. Apart from all that however this could - perhaps - be a vaguely amusing post if we can set aside just how horrific the whole system is...

When my contract ended I was busy applying for other jobs. In fact I remember feeling vaguely uncomfortable that I was going for second interviews even before I knew for certain that my existing contract would not be renewed. Colleagues and friends assured me there was no question I would not find another job quickly and easily. If that was you then bless you and thank you for your encouragement.

I applied for lots of jobs and initially thought it would be easy - exciting even - to find a new post. I am embarrassed to admit it but until this point I had not attended a job interview and not been appointed, Ouch. Reality check.

I went for interviews and was not appointed. Worse than this however was spending hours on application forms not to receive an acknowledgement or be invited for interview. I am not sure exactly when I signed on but I was encouraged to do so by friends who told me "the government needs to know". Exactly what they needed to know I was unsure - but that one more person is unemployed would do for starters.

The Job Centre is a bus ride away. The first time I ventured there I missed the bus stop. When I asked the driver and he realised where I was headed I cried. The first of many Job Centre related tears.

To be fair they were nice to me. The security guards smiled, the managers often came forward to escort me to my advisor. The people behind the desks were reasonably helpful - though some eye contact rather than frantic online form filling would have been nice. Telling me to dumb down my CV was perhaps not one of their best suggestions - though I have heard it's not uncommon. To be fair I did find the advisor's anger - make that fury - when I found 16 hours work one week somewhat bewildering. 15 hours and 59 minutes would have been fine but 16 meant I was booted out of the system and had to start over, and it was too late to change the form as he had seen it. Poor him.

Poor me too though. I did cry and still wonder why that was? Perhaps because in spite of the smiles and help I received most claimants were treated as almost a different species? And I felt tarred with the same brush even if I did look different. There - I have said it. I was still dressed as I would have been for the office. No visible tattoos, shaved head, piercings.

And what was this different treatment? For starters the presence of security, the sense that we were out to cause trouble, that we were not deserving of basic human provision. Coffee machine - no way! Water cooler - you must be joking! On one occasion I asked to use the toilet - needing tissues and to pull myself together. But there are no toilets - for use by claimants - at the Job Centre Plus.

Why did I come off of JSA? Last summer I did three things that made me ineligible. I covered for someone on holiday in a local office - a whole weeks work! I then went on holiday for a week with the family. Nothing fancy - but obviously unavailable for work. And finally I volunteered as a London Ambassador during the Olympics.

That was it for me. Call me a coward but I had enough. From now on I was on my own.

The floodgates are open

Not literally of course - though there was a slight mishap whilst cleaning the bathroom.

What I am trying to say of course is having once blogged this morning, all those potential posts are now whizzing not only round my brain but down the back of my throat and across my tongue - itching to get out. But with no one to talk to save the Emergency Cat featured in the last post they have instead found their way to my fingertips and the keyboard.

Big Girls Don't Cry aka The agonies of the job centre 
How I really feel about David Cameron
Losing my religion - sorry - hobby - distracted by an eighties anthem there
Minimum, living, luxury - talking wages there
What you actually do when you don't work - one for DC there methinks
Talking to the cat

That will do for now - these are just ideas that popped into my head whilst clearing up the puddle on the bathroom floor. For now I will focus on the very first with a brief resume of how I came to find myself unemployed/self-employed. (I would say delete as applicable but that seems to vary on a daily basis so perhaps best to leave them both there for now)

Since starting my cake business (time for a quick shameless plug?! I have been inundated with endless messages of support from people congratulating me on following my dream, being brave enough to jack in the day job, or simply asking me why I quit the comfort of full time (well)paid employment.

Sadly I am neither brave nor following my dream. My contract came to an end; there was a big restructure; there was not a job for me. I haven't written much about it - and whilst cleaning up that puddle just now I was wondering why. After all I am usually one to let it all out in a post or three.

It came to me quite clearly and suddenly - I didn't want to say how I felt as I didn't want to upset anyone. At the time that felt really important. With the benefit of hindsight I have no idea why it stopped me doing what would probably have helped me process the experience.

After all those close to me already had a pretty good idea - the tears were a bit of a giveaway. And even if something you say does upset people is that a bad thing? If it is then someone needs to speak to the news channels as reports from the Philippines as I write this are upsetting me. (As do stories from Syria, tales of child abuse, murder and rape, and  pretty much everything else the bulletins are crammed with that doesn't feature David Beckham).

In fact when you consider all that's going on in the world my little redundancy is actually a very minor thing to be upset about. Big to me in my little world maybe, but a very small thing in everyone else's. If for some reason anything I say in subsequent posts does upset you (beware if you are a lover of David Cameron - I may just be harsh) may I now once and for all apologise profusely in advance and urge you not to cry/to buy a box of tissues/ get over it as I have.

Having got all of that out of the way this post is now way too long and will be resumed later on. One thing I love about blogging is the lack of word count. Yes I know the ideal length but being my own boss gives me permission to break the rules so if you have read this far thank you for sticking with me and see you again soon.

Ah - the obligatory photo

Looking for Linda again?

Why pick up the virtual pen again after all this time?

I am inspired to do so by an ex colleague who has herself entered the blogosphere of late. She writes with wit and warmth about the tribulations of a particular version of motherhood. Saying it how it is, she never stumbles into self pity or engenders unwanted sympathy. I follow her adventures with interest and amusement and admire her honesty and tenacity.

This blog "used to be" about my scoliosis journey. It still is - but I imagine the next chapters will differ somewhat from those morphine soaked entries three years ago. Each and every day I hear a blog post running through my mind and have decided to commit them to what used to be called paper on a more regular basis again - but why and what's stopped me before now?

Exactly the things I have NOT found in my ex colleague's blog if I am honest - the fear of appearing self pitying or of engendering unwanted sympathy. I do intend to write a pretty no holds barred account of life after surgery and redundancy so if you are squeamish, sensitive or easily offended perhaps it is time to look away now.

I will begin later on - there is a house to clean, beds to change, laundry to be sorted and baking to be done before then. But this is a start.

Finally - for anyone confused about my blog - there is of course another one, live and kicking, over at There you can find all sorts of cake filled happiness and what has affectionately been called food p*rn. (I starred the o there as I really do not want to attract the wrong sort of reader here...)

Every blog needs a photo but an introduction such as this struggles so just for now here is an emergency cat - she does love a nice cup of cold tea!

Sunday, 25 August 2013


Where has a year gone?

August Bank Holiday. Greenbelt Weekend.

I wrote about last year's experience of rain, mud, loss and letting go almost a year ago and since then have rarely visited this page. Most of my blogging now takes place on my business site as I attempt to grow my caking into something that will replace my work and provide a reasonable income.

That, however, is not what I am reflecting on today. I'm not at Greenbelt this year and miss it desperately, in spite of the aforementioned rain and mud last year. I still hadn't accepted I wouldn't be going as I frantically searched for accommodation on Friday evening. It wasn't so much that I left it too late - I had been making enquiries and giving it thought for months. Things simply didn't come together in terms of a volunteering opportunity, affordable accommodation, and cheap rail ticket. Things I didn't consider when I could jump in the car with a tent many years ago, or when my wristband and travel were provided by the charity I worked for. And when a four star hotel room was affordable.

I'm "supposed" to be taking part in the social media worship session just now. It is being tweeted and I love the idea of an inclusive service that we can join in with wherever we are. I sat down at this laptop with a cup of tea and prepared to feel "greenbelty". I even hoped for a little of that "thin space" to open up over my kitchen.

Why then am I here and not there? To be fair I still have the tab open and have refreshed the page a few times to see what is going on. I would love to enter into it but something holds me back. I don't think it is sin or anything massively complicated - I appreciate the idea and value the thought and care that has gone into it.

From the images submitted however I know that other followers/participants are at the festival. Not all. But even seeing the pictures of the contributors lounge and racecourse served only to remind me I am not there and the tweets aren't touching that sense of absent longing.

Better I feel to accept I am here and to distract myself with activity other than facebook - with its many images of people having a wonderful Greenbelt. And twitter - encouraging me to attend a certain venue to hear someone I am sad not to be saying hello to this year.

Ironically I slept in this morning. Missing the various radio programmes being broadcast from the racecourse. I caught one quote however - Martyn Joseph saying that Greenbelt reminds you that you are not the only spiritual refugee in the world.

If you understand that then you will understand why missing Greenbelt is not just about missing a festival, some bands, talks that you can download anyway, or even your friends and the rain.

Greenbelt is indeed a refuge for many who still believe - or want to believe. A place to regroup and sort things for the next leg of the journey. To reconnect and reconcile.

And of course to enjoy a drink with friends in The Jesus Arms. If you are there have one for me. And for sure - "next year in Cheltenham."

Friday, 11 January 2013

Cross pollination

Hopefully a blog title that has grabbed your attention - but why and what does it mean you may be asking?

As some of you know I write, and I bake.

This evening I used my writing to promote my baking. Not by blogging or facebooking however. Much more scarily (!) I wrote a poem about my Valentine's Day cupcakes and recited it at the Coco Cafe Dial Up. In other words the open mic night where lots of very talented people write and sing and perform...

If you weren't there - and to be honest many of you were not - here is the poem for your enjoyment. You do need to imagine me standing there with my specs on shaking with nerves but somewhat emboldened by a very large glass (okay - two!) of red wine!

I will also post this on and look forward to introducing some of you to each other!

Linda x

A poem about how to tell someone you love them....

I wanted to tell him I fancied his face

But struggled to think of the time and the place.

To be honest I thought that a kiss would be good

Or even a snog; I so definitely would.

I'm not going so far as to say I'd propose

One husband is all I'm allowed I suppose.

I'm joking of course - there's no mystery man

Keep listening and I will explain if I can.

My mum is the best - she's always been

The one that I turn to if people are mean.

Best friends are forever - I'm glad I have mine

When I need a good moan - and a bottle of wine.

And aren't there times when we all need to find

A present for someone who's been rather kind?

A nice box of chocolates, a bouquet of flowers,

Haven't we all been there searching for hours?

By now you may realise that all this commotion

Is simply some shameless and poor self promotion.

If you have a message, something to say

To someone you love on this Valentine's Day...

...then do it this time with a most special cake

Better than Mary, or Paul, or Nigella, or Delia, or Jamie can make...

It will come Filled With Love and ensure that you say

What needs to be said in the best possible way!